How to force fullscreen games to play in windowed mode

I like to play classic computer games from time to time and purchase them most of the time on Good Old Games. While those games run without issues on modern Windows PCs, you sometimes notice that they have been designed for hardware long past its prime time.

The screen resolution for instance may be set to 640x480 or even less, which looks out of place on modern HD monitors. One solution for that particular issue is to run the game in windowed mode.

While some games offer options to play them in window mode right away, others may not and that is were the problems begin.

This guide looks at the various options that you have to run computer games, old or new, in a window instead of full screen.

Alt-Enter

The first thing that you may want to try is hit the Alt-Enter key on your keyboard while the game is running in fullscreen mode. Some games change the mode to window automatically when you use the shortcut, while some won't.

This is the easiest option to try, which is why I have selected it as the first choice in this regard.

Program settings / ini files

game in window mode

Some programs let you change the display mode -- including whether to run them in full screen mode or not -- in the program preferences.

Just open the preferences and go through them one by one to find out if the game you want to run in a window offers that option natively.

To give you an example: Dota 2 has a preference under Video / Audio that you can use to change the display mode from fullscreen to window or borderless window.

game running in window

Some games ship with .ini files in the game directory that may offer options to change the game resolution and display mode as well.

To find out if that is the case for the game you try to play, open the game's program folder on your system and search for .ini files.

If you do not find any here, chance is that it does not use these files.

Program shortcut

window shortcut

Another option that you have is to add commands to the program shortcut. Right-click on the shortcut on your system and add commands like the following ones to the end of the target field:

  • w
  • window
  • windowmode

Note that you may need elevated privileges to save these information to the file. Not all games support those commands, but some do. There may be other variations such as -f resolution, e.g. -f 1024x768

Game wrappers

run in window

Game wrappers may help you run games in a window. They intercept calls and use emulation to provide this and other functionality.

As with all solutions before, they work on some games but not on all of them. Here is a short selection of wrappers for you to try out:

  • DirectX OpenGL Wrapper - emulates API calles through OpenGL in order to run DirectX applications on other platforms.
  • DxWnd - the most sophisticated program of them all. A boatload of options, and the core purpose of the program is to make DirectX fullscreen games playable in windows.
  • Glide - has not been updated since 2005 but may still work with older games.

Virtualization

This is the last resort. If you want to play a DOS game, or a game with a DOS version, DOSBox is your first choice as it ships with all the functionality you need for that.

If not, then you need something different. If you are running Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate or Enterprise, you can make use of Windows XP Mode to run games in a window on your system.

If you do not, you can use virtualization software such as VMware or VirtualBox instead. What they do basically is emulate another operating system on your PC. Since it runs in windowed mode, all games that you install and launch in a virtual environment will also run in that mode.

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How to force fullscreen games to play in windowed mode
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How to run low-resolution fullscreen games in a window. Guaranteed to work.
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Responses to How to force fullscreen games to play in windowed mode

  1. Rook May 4, 2014 at 9:35 pm #

    This page also has a lot of information on (borderless) windowed mode: http://pcgamingwiki.com/wiki/Glossary:Borderless_fullscreen_windowed

    • Bob May 5, 2014 at 6:02 am #

      Would be so much better if it wasn't in wiki format.

  2. Daniel Postoronka November 2, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    NOTHING here worked! I want to force Trainz UTC to be windowed. :( I need to screen record the gameplay. My computer doesn't support screen recording on full screen applications, please help me!

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